It was the summer of 2008; Jürgen Klinsmann had been handed the reins at Bayern Munich with the minimal expectation of winning the league.
There was hope and excitement around the appointment of a young coach, no less a former player, at Germany’s biggest club; maybe Klinsmann would be the one who improved Bayern’s overall standard and who would guide them to a strong Champions League showing after years of rather abysmal performances, especially in the knockout rounds. Bayern had rather embarrassingly lost out in the UEFA Cup the season before to Zenit St. Petersburg as well in the semifinals.
Klinsmann’s Bayern side did well in the first half of the season; but that was not the fairytale story of the season. A village team by the name of Hoffenheim had been promoted; halfway through the season, they would be crowned winter champions under the tutelage of a certain Ralf Rangnick.
The best game of the first half of that season took place between Bayern and Hoffenheim, with Bayern eking out a 2-1 win. The decider was scored by Luca Toni in the dying minutes of the game after Vedad Ibisevic had opened the scoring and Philipp Lahm had equalized. The standard of the game and the speed at which it was played, left fans like me asking for more. Raphael Honigstein’s tribute to the match in the Guardian explained matters rather well, with Hoffenheim earning many plaudits for the way they played.
Years later, Hoffenheim would hire a young coach by the name of Julian Nagelsmann, who would take them to their best ever finish (third) in 2018 and generate excitement around the club again until his departure for RB Leipzig in 2019.
That game between Bayern and Hoffenheim in 2008 was almost the signal for a new German rivalry at the top until it wasn’t; Wolfsburg would go on to win the title, Bayern would finish second and Hoffenheim would finish seventh. Klinsmann would be fired in April.
Yet that one game between Bayern and Hoffenheim remains memorable to me; football of such high quality is rare, especially in a season impacted by COVID-19. And yet, Bayern has played football of the utmost quality, using some of Rangnick’s tactics (pressing the opposition incessantly comes to mind), over the past two seasons.
And that is credit to Hansi Flick, the man who made me fall back in love with Bayern Munich.
I was never quite out of love with the club; I watched every game in the league and the Champions League but very few are imprinted in my memory between 2013 and 2019. Part of that is down to life events and part of that is down to events at the club.
I still remember the day I visited the Bundesliga’s official website and saw the announcement that Pep Guardiola was taking over at Bayern. As someone who wasn’t a fan of tiki-taka and had seen Lionel Messi run rings around Manuel Almunia of Arsenal in 2010 after doing the same to poor Hans-Jörg Butt in 2009, I had had enough. I didn’t exactly want a Barcelona manager to take over at Bayern, no matter what Guardiola’s credentials were. Moreover, I didn’t want Jupp Heynckes to leave.
At the end, Heynckes left....with a treble. The start of Pep’s tenure coincided with some big changes in my life; overall, although Bayern was defending champions in every competition, I didn’t feel as connected to the team. I hated how the team played against Real Madrid in a single-goal defeat in the first leg in the semifinal of the Champions League in Pep’s debut season. The hallmarks of Heynckes’ Bayern, particularly the ability to cede possession and play a counter-attack based game, at least to me, seemed to have disappeared. The push to bring Thiago into the club also left me rather bitter because the whole affair made me believe that Pep wanted to turn my team into Barcelona. I absolutely hated it.
After his first season, I began to become more accepting of the situation but my ties with the team waned. In 2015, when Bastian Schweinsteiger left, the ties waned even further; in fact his departure felt to have come a little too early and I wrote him a tribute on this very site at the time to reflect how I felt.
After Guardiola left, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. When Carlo Ancelotti was hired, I was quite disappointed as well. I thought Ancelotti’s best years as a manager were over and that turned out to be the case, although he is doing quite well at Everton now. The Italian was fired after a poor showing in the Champions League against PSG and Heynckes came back for his last stint to see out the season. I felt the bond with the team tightening a bit more. When Niko Kovac came aboard after Jupp’s stint ended, I was rather happy simply because I remembered him from his playing days. I was excited that the manager was someone who could identify with the club.
After Frankfurt hammered 10-man Bayern in 2019, 5-1, I wasn’t sure whether Kovac should be fired. Kovac would eventually leave the club and Hansi Flick would take over.
And Flick’s first match in charge would reignite my love for the club. The brand of football was of the highest quality; there seemed to be an infectious energy among the players, an energy that flowed into me. The following two games would end in defeat by a single goal margin; however even those games against Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach in the first half of the 2019-2020 season were losses which felt like victories. Miracles kept Bayern from blowing away the opposition in those games. The last-second victories over Wolfsburg (2-0) and Freiburg (3-1 win) courtesy of Joshua Zirkzee’s late goals will forever be imprinted in my memory.
In 2020, due to COVID-19, our living circumstances changed. I was lucky enough to be able to stay at home. And, that meant I was able to catch plenty of games live, especially the Champions League. I was no longer consigned to watching recorded games hours later, after the excitement had waned. Also, football provided much needed relief from perpetual bad news during that time.
I had for years missed early round ties in the DFB-Pokal due to my reluctance to get a separate subscription for the competition. Flick’s Bayern blew me away in 2019/2020, that I decided I would watch the Pokal from the get-go the following season. In the Champions League final against PSG, with five minutes to spare, I found myself in tears. thinking back to the events in 2012, rather than in 2013. When Bayern held on to clinch the win, I was ecstatic. I had long ago boarded the Flick train and I just never wanted to get off.
As Flick’s Bayern played on, I realized I found my love for Thomas Müller again too; I thought Bayern was right to bring in Philippe Coutinho in 2019 because Müller wasn’t quite performing at the highest standards. I watched Müller from the get-go in Bayern’s senior side and I had always been a big fan but misuse by multiple coaches made me almost lose my faith in him, too.
When the 2020/2021 campaign began, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I was able to watch a Bundesliga opener on a Friday live, instead of having to record it and what an opener it proved to be: I was treated to eight goals and pure enjoyment. Rarely did a game pass by in which Bayern did not serve up an attacking treat; the last game against Mainz might be the only time in which I saw Bayern’s attack virtually toothless and that includes a 0-0 draw against Leipzig under Flick’s tutelage.
Bayern will win only one prize at the end of this season; that pales in comparison to last season. And yet, the quality of the attack is so pure that it leaves me wanting more. I identify with this team; the core includes players who debuted in front of me. such as Müller and David Alaba, as well as exciting young professionals who became linchpins of the side in front of me such as Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich. The side includes players I have watched throughout their careers at the top tier of German football such as Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Robert Lewandowski.
Moreover, despite the fact that Flick’s departure and the boardroom issues haven’t been great to witness, the team is going into the hands of someone who identifies with the club as strongly as a supporter, because he grew up as a fan of Bayern. Things will be different for him in Bavaria as neither Hoffenheim nor RB Leipzig, his previous coaching assignments, are traditional German clubs because of their backings (Hoffenheim is backed by Dietmar Hopp and Leipzig found a way to circumvent the ‘50+1’ rule).
As a supporter nonetheless, all I can ask for is someone who deeply cares for the club. Bayern seems to think he does based on the fact that he has been given a five-year contract.
And yet, the mere mention of Flick’s departure is still a bitter pill to swallow. I fell back in love so strongly with this club, that, after the second leg against PSG this year, I found myself in tears. Defeats hadn’t hurt as much as they did under Flick in a long time; victories didn’t feel as joyous as they did under Flick, in a long time.
I hope that under Nagelsmann, I will continue to feel the same. And to Flick, all I can say is thank you for making me love my club again. And to those who are reading, as always, thank you for reading.